To plan or not to plan …

Perhaps the most frustrating part of writing for me is when I know where I want to go with my essay or proposal or story, but can’t see how to get there. Sometimes, I don’t even know how to start.

Oooh, colors! Sometimes changing to pen and colored ink can be an inspiration in itself, even for a dedicated word-processor.

No clue where to start, even: The seminar proposal for which I just wrote my half of the project would fall into this first category. Luckily, I had a list of what my partner and I had talked about and simply started putting these key phrases into sentences. The sentences fell into a preliminary organization as they formed. And the individual segments of the proposed seminar had a logical order of their own. Once I’d completed a very rough draft, I could rearrange as I re-read what I’d done. The result? A plausible treatment for my part of the work. Finished and coherent enough for emailing off to my partner, anyway.

A start, a goal, and a blank between them: Both my just-needing-final-edit first children’s novel and my almost-2000-word start on a second fit this category. For the first, I had an opening concept: girl meets ferret and has an adventure. So I just stated writing. A couple of chapters into it, when I realized I had at least a novella and not a short story, I thought out a more complete version of what the end point of the story needed to be. But even as I drew in on the end, I never knew ahead of my writing it exactly how I’d get there. In fact, the most essential editorial work still needed on this story involves smoothing out the final resolution. However, my work did close the gap eventually, just by writing on and staying true to the characters and their environment, so I’m not too panicked about the second story. Yet.

A man, a plan, a canal … what? Sorry, got sidetracked into a palindrome when I started to write about writing to a plan. Some people always plan everything out before they start writing. Other people never plan, feeling constrained by even a very loose outline and wanting to be free to follow their creative impulses. As you may have gathered already, I fall somewhere in between these two extremes. I always try to have some sort of outline, however loose, but I also stay open to changes of direction as I start writing if a different approach looks likely to work better than my original plan.

The trick, if you can call it that, to avoid frustrating yourself as you write lies in figuring out what kind of organization helps you most. If you’re a free spirit, don’t plan your story or essay to the last detail—leave yourself a lot of space for expressing the mood of the moment. On the other hand, if you find yourself frustrated by wandering off-topic all the time, you should probably organize your notes or thoughts before starting to type … or picking up your pen or pencil.


About Susan NC Price

Writing coach Susan NC Price has been a poet all her life and an editor for half her life, but only realized in her late 30s that she enjoyed writing all sorts of prose as well. The twin epiphanies of word processing and realizing she no longer had teachers forcing her to use their style of outlining outlines contributed to her late-blooming love of writing. Susan has 1 prizewinning short story, 2 grown writer sons, 3 current e-newsletters she maintains and a host of writing projects to her credit. She's currently working to develop new writers through her coaching endeavor: re/Write: Scribbles to Stories (see Facebook page:
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One Response to To plan or not to plan …

  1. rogerdcolby says:

    I use a handy dandy little program called Mindnode. Check it out here: I use it to create intricate webs of thought in order to brainstorm and to plan out ideas. It has saved me hours of time and helps me to process everything so that I can better create a more cohesive structure.

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